Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spanish Class: Carnaval

It's March First, 2014, and you know what that means... Lent is only five days away, so you'd better get your party on NOW, while there's still party to be had! We'll be using up all the lard and sugar on Tuesday, and once we're anointed with ash on Wednesday, it is over until Easter Sunday.

"How now", you say?

I'm not crazy, I'm in Catholic Spain, and that's how we roll.

Well, that's how we rolled in the past, and for anyone who has experienced Spain, can you really believe it? 40 days with no parties, how DID they survive? These people have party streamers in their DNA. So, to prepare La Cuaresama, Lent, a time of reflection and austerity, they threw a party. Any excuse to dress up and have a good time.

Lots of Catholic countries celebrate the Carnival season. It's at time of costumes, humour, and communal festivities, where anyone can be anything. Traditionally a time to "get it out of your system" before fasting and at least daily mass, now a time of fun and revelry.

Spain's most famous Carnaval celebrations take place in Cadiz and the Canary Islands. I've never been to either one, or any one, but Carnival celebrations have appealed to me ever since I first read Chocolat, by Joanne Harris. While the elaborate costumes of the Islands appeal to me, and I would like to go someday, I'm pretty sure I'll skip Cadiz. Despite being known for their skills in writing chirigotas - little songs that make fun of people, and costumes inspired by current events, Tall Guy thinks I'd cry - Interesting events by day, but pushy drunken crowds, lame costumes and people peeing in the street by night, he says. He's right - I want to cry just thinking about it!

Burial of the Sardine

Until this year, I didn't even know Madrid really did anything to celebrate, other than bury a stinky fish on Ash Wednesday (more about that later - I have to see it to believe it!). I've never seen superheroes and pirates roaming around, confetti on the streets, vendors with piles of masques, or anything else one would expect to see during a carnival. But Madrid's Carnaval is experiencing something of a renaissance lately - this year we've got a parade and fireworks, a sold-out masquerade ball (oh well, maybe next time!)concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and, to finish things off, the burial of the sardine.

El Greco is the mascot of Carnaval in Madrid this year - it's the 400th anniversary of his death, and as he captured the Burial of the Sardine in a painting, he seems like an appropriate figurehead to me. As long as the weather holds, we're off to a parade tonight, a kind of tableaux-vivant inspired by his paintings and other famous Spanish artists, including Velázquez and Picasso. The parade ends in the marvellous Cibeles Plaza, with a show of fireworks, and a performance by Sinfonity, the word's first electric guitar orchestra. 
I'm intrigued - let the festivities begin!

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